Temple Israel of Nantasket, one of the oldest continuously operating seasonal synagogues in Massachusetts and an historic Jewish landmark, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
The first service was held on Aug. 28, 1921. Since that time, generations of the same families have worshipped in the synagogue, which features turrets, beautiful stained-glass windows, and a magnificent sanctuary.
A kickoff anniversary event will be held on Memorial Day, May 31, to honor the Jewish war veterans of Hull. The ceremony will feature a reading of the names of all Hull-connected Jews who served in the U.S. armed forces. A memorial plaque will be installed on the corner of Nantasket Avenue and Hadassah Way, adjacent to the synagogue.
Also in honor of the temple’s centennial, the Jews of Nantasket Beach group is compiling a communal history of the shul as a gift for subsequent generations. The “Gathering History at 100” project is in honor of the first 100 years of organized Jewish prayer in Nantasket. Anyone who has prayed at Temple Israel or Temple Beth Sholom next door, who enjoyed visiting the Nantasket Youth Center on Hadassah Way, or who is a Jewish member of the Hull community is invited to share their memories and photos by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We would like to preserve these memories that tell the story of the synagogue’s history – who built it, when different families went there, what kinds of events took place, and other details to create a sense of community and connection,” said Hull resident Steven Greenberg. “Hull welcomed Jews at a time when surrounding communities did not.”
Greenberg has been a temple member for the past 15 years. “Our 100th anniversary is all about the history – how our Jewish community kept the faith and this building going [for a century],” he told The Hull Times. “This is a story of resiliency and of an evolving community. We want to remain part of Hull, which means living, working, and worshipping here. Judaism is not only a religion, it’s a way of life.”
Congregants come from more than 40 communities during the 10-week summer season, beginning the weekend before July 4th and concluding Labor Day weekend. Some are former Hull residents returning for a couple of weeks to visit with family, while others have summer homes in town. Various services and celebrations, Torah study, and special events take place during the summer months.
Ruth Diengott’s family has had a summer cottage on Samoset Avenue in Hull for the past 100 years. Her grandfather, Aaron White, owned a summer place on Adams Street before purchasing the Samoset Avenue property.
Diengott recalled that because her family were observant Jews they did not ride or drive on the Sabbath, which begins Friday evening and ends at sunset on Saturday. Before they moved to Hull, they spent their summers in Houghs Neck, which they could travel to before sunset by horse and buggy from their family department store in Roxbury. The purchase of their first Model T allowed them to drive all the way to Nantasket before sundown on Friday.
Her grandfather closed his store on Saturday. He was one of the original members of Temple Israel and served on its board of directors, as did Diengott’s father, Nathan Friedman.
The family has had continuous membership and a presence in the synagogue for a century. Ruth served on the original staff of the former Nantasket Youth Center, which was built next to Temple Israel in 1948. Five generations have called their summer place on Samoset Avenue “home.” The little cottage, purchased by Diengott’s grandfather 100 years ago, serves as a catalyst for family togetherness for Ruth, her children, grandchildren, and their friends.
Temple Israel is an all-volunteer effort, with members of the temple family contributing their expertise and manpower in all matters pertaining to temple life – from planning weekly services and kiddush (a ceremony of prayer and blessing over wine) to maintaining the building and prayer books and writing the weekly e-newsletter.
Member Alyssa Bickoff Elfman started volunteering at an early age when, at the request of members of the temple, she would pay a visit on her bicycle to people they knew, or who she knew were Jewish, knock on their doors, and invite them to join the synagogue. She would also ask people she met at the beach to attend services.
“I was only 10, and I guess [those asking her to make the house calls] thought it would be hard for people to say no,” she recalled. “About 40 people accepted my invitation and joined.”
When she was 12, after receiving training from two temple members who were retiring and moving to Florida, she took on the volunteer role of corresponding secretary, mailing letters to congregants and performing other duties.
There are also many other volunteers. “No one gets paid except for the people who read the Torah for the congregation during the Saturday morning services,” Bickoff Elfman noted.
Her parents, Gerald and Debra Bickoff, are also active members. Her father, who currently serves as president, began taking his daughter to services when she was 6 months old.
Bickoff Elfman shared what she believes is special about Temple Israel: “Everyone comes from different communities around the country, which they are involved with during the year, but we come together as one for 10 weeks during the summer.”
She remembers how her friend, Alison Schnipper, did volunteer work at the temple before her passing two years ago. “She was amazing, taking us into the 21st century,” Bickoff Elfman said. “She did our website, sent out weekly emails to congregants, and helped implement ideas, which everyone loved.”
The challenge now facing the congregation is repairing and renovating the aging building, including a new roof and turret work among several other needs. That’s where the ongoing capital campaign comes in. Some work has already been completed.
In addition to repairing the building, the congregation hopes to leave an endowment for the next 100 years. Donations can be mailed to: Temple Israel of Nantasket, P.O. Box 526, Hull, MA 02045.
For additional information about Temple Israel’s history, services, the Jews of Nantasket Beach Project, or the capital campaign, visit https://www.templeisraelofnantasket.com/
How a temple found its way to a street named Hadassah
The history of Jewish summer religious services associated with what is now Temple Israel in Hull dates back to 1915, when the late Myer Cohen, Max Axelrod, and Henry J. Morrison gathered a group of summer residents to conduct the town’s first High Holiday services on Kenberma Street.
During 1916 and 1917, Axelrod’s Samoset Avenue summer home was used for daily and Shabbat (Sabbath) services. The following year, daily services were hosted in Cohen’s summer place on the same street, while holiday services were held in Kenberma’s Greystone Inn.
This was the start of what is now Temple Israel of Nantasket, which has been serving Hull’s summer Jewish community ever since. The synagogue was Orthodox and was always full into the 1970s, with men and women seated separately at that time. (Pre-pandemic, 60 to 100 people were attending Saturday services there.)
Temple Israel’s first president, Joseph Rudnick, was elected in 1920. The first service at the current location on Hadassah Way was held in late summer of 1921. That roadway had been known as Wilson Street until members of the Hull branch of the national Jewish women’s organization, Hadassah, successfully advocated for the name change.
Within six years of the first Shabbat service, Temple Israel was built. The synagogue serves year-round and summer Hull residents as well as those of the Jewish faith from surrounding communities and beyond. Temple Beth Sholom next door, established in the 1960s, offers services year-round.
Temple Israel also supported the construction of the Nantasket Youth Center, which served both summer children and Temple Beth Sholom families for many years from its location next door on Hadassah Way.
Looking back even further, a brief in the July 3, 1914, Jewish Advocate lists Rabbi M.M. Eichler, of Temple Ohabei Shalom in Brookline, holding services throughout the summer every Friday evening at 8 p.m. at what was the Vining Villa at Stony Beach in Nantasket.